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As an interim regional administration takes shape, Tigrayan criticism of the TPLF is on the rise.
After two years of brutal civil war that triggered a humanitarian crisis, on 2 November 2022, the federal government and TPLF signed a peace agreement in Pretoria, South Africa.
It called for an immediate end to hostilities, the disarmament of Tigrayan forces, the withdrawal of all non-Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) soldiers from Tigray, unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, the resumption of basic services, and the formation of an inclusive transitional government in Tigray.
The international community welcomed the agreement as a significant step towards ending the conflict and resolving the humanitarian crisis.
Progress has been made in Tigray since the Pretoria agreement, including the partial withdrawal of hostile forces from Eritrea, increased aid delivery, and the restoration of services in many areas. The Tigray Armed Combatants, for their part, have given up their heavy weapons and put fighters in rehab camps.
But, the simultaneous withdrawal of non-ENDF forces, a critical aspect of the agreement, has fallen short of expectations. This includes the Eritrean army and combatants from neighboring Amhara region, which occupied parts of Tigray at the war’s outset and forcibly displaced Tigrayans, exacerbating a land dispute that remains a key sticking point.
Despite the agreement calling for a transitional justice mechanism to be established, there has been no movement on this front, as both sides appear ready to overlook this commitment. Federal authorities have warned that accountability risks undermining the fragile peace.
Although reports of atrocities have continued to emerge, full-scale fighting in Tigray has ended, which is good news for Tigray’s long-suffering residents.
However, the federal government still has a lot of work to do to fulfil its obligations.
One urgent issue that remains unaddressed is the provision of a budget to Tigray. Amid the war, government employees in the region have not received their salaries.
Getachew Reda, one of the Tigray leadership’s key signatories, recently explained that the federal government has linked the budget allocation for government employees to the establishment of the transitional government, which is part of the Pretoria agreement.
He said that, although they have requested the release of the budget, the federal government has demanded that the transitional government be established first.
Despite repeatedly assuring the public of its commitment to establish the transitional government, the TPLF and federal authorities have taken a significant amount of time to make it a reality.
After several months of working on it, much to the frustration of the Tigrayan public, the TPLF-led government of Tigray recently formed a nine-member committee to establish the Interim Regional Administration (IRA).
Tigrayan officials plan to form the IRA shortly, which is expected to include members of the military, political parties, and scholars from Tigray.
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Lt. General Tadesse Worede, the commander of the Tigray forces and the head of the committee, has recognized the public’s concern about the delay in establishing the IRA.
However, he has emphasized the need for sufficient time and preparations to create a transitional government that can stand the test of time. “It is better for it to have a solid foundation,” he said.
The committee, composed of equal parts armed forces, scholars, and TPLF representatives, has not received unanimous or enthusiastic support from the Tigrayan public, particularly opposition parties.
The TPLF has stated that only parties involved in resisting the allied offensive by Ethiopian, Amhara, and Eritrean forces can participate in the IRA.
This would exclude parties like Arena Tigray, Tigray Democratic Party (TDP), and Tigray Prosperity Party that remained on the sidelines or provided support to federal authorities against Tigray’s armed resistance.
The legitimacy of the transitional government committee is questionable because it was created by the TPLF-led Tigray government, which was deemed illegal after the Pretoria Agreement nullified the September 2020 Tigray regional election conducted in defiance of federal authorities.
This means the TPLF no longer has the legal authority to represent Tigray, hence the need for a transitional government and another election. As such, the TPLF’s legitimacy now relies on the goodwill of Tigrayan people and opposition parties.
Tigray’s ethno-nationalist parties see the transitional government as a tool for the TPLF’s continued dominance.
For instance, Tigray Independence Party (TIP) leaders are openly frustrated with the TPLF’s systematic sidelining of their interests and refuse to recognize the committee or transitional government.
“We will not accept the bargain being made behind closed doors in the name of the Tigray armed forces and intellectuals by the TPLF leadership clique,” said the party in a statement released on 16 February.
TIP leaders claim they will only contribute positively if the IRA represents all Tigrayan viewpoints fairly and transparently.
On 1 March, UMD Media reported that a conference on the establishment of the IRA began this week in the absence of three major opposition parties, indicating that TPLF leadership will seek to monopolize the transitional government. One of those parties, Salsay Weyane, said they and others had boycotted the event, partly because the TPLF “handpicked” a key committee.
Without the support of Tigray’s ethno-nationalist parties, the TPLF is vulnerable to exploitation by pan-Ethiopian parties and the Eritrean government.
The TPLF faces the most serious legitimacy crisis in its history, as the Tigrayan people are no longer a guaranteed support base due its partial responsibility for the wartime destruction and loss of life, as well as concessions made to Addis Ababa and to Amhara and Eritrean forces. This has led to bitterness and dissatisfaction among Tigrayans.
The federal government has not actively involved itself in Tigrayan politics, while the lack of assertiveness by the Tigray Prosperity Party is puzzling. External involvement tends to rally Tigrayans behind the TPLF, so any future involvement would likely be through local allies like Arena Tigray and the TDP.
Abraha Desta, head of Arena Party, recently announced his return to politics in Tigray, which could be convenient for the federal government.
It remains to be seen how Tigrayans will receive Abraha’s return given his past involvement with the controversial interim administration—formed by federal authorities in November 2020 and expelled by Tigray’s armed resistance in June 2021—but this marks a significant development in Tigray’s political landscape.
The tension between the TPLF and Tigrayan opposition over the formation of the transitional government is approaching boiling point.
The opposition is, arguably, seeking a greater role in the IRA than their political clout warrants. However, a power-sharing arrangement that reflects the diversity of Tigray’s political landscape is crucial.
Unless Tigrayan scholars and the business community take the initiative to help broker a compromise, tensions between the TPLF and opposition parties may destabilize Tigray’s post-war transition.
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Excellent observations, @Ethio insight!
Tplf needs to go. Their hands are dirty